Lately, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Is it time for us to question our existence?
For so much of our lives, majority of us have just blindly done what we’ve been told to do. Be it instructions from our parents, teachers, the government, or anyone else we look up to. We just trust that what we’re being told is real. And the people we’re listening to have our best interests at heart.
But what if they don’t?
What if there was an alternate reality?
It’s time to question everything…
Why do you vote for government?
Why do you follow the Royal family?
Why do you go to church?
Why do you send your kids to school?
Why do you watch the news?
Why do you put Hollywood actors on a pedestal?
Why do you do anything you do in your life?
Because that’s the way it is.
Because that’s the way it’s always been.
Because someone else told you to.
Because everyone else does.
Hmmmmm see the problem here…
Our entire existence has been shaped by blindly following everyone else.
Any time we question anything we’re made to feel silly or wrong. So eventually we just fall in line.
Follow the rules.
Trust that everyone else is thinking about our best interests.
But what if all these institutions were built with a different agenda?
What if they didn’t have your best interests at heart at all?
What if everything you’ve ever known was based on lies told to keep the elites in power?
And what if all of that was about to change?
What would you believe then?
What would you do with your life then?
Baudrillard and Hyperrealism
Back in my uni days one of the compulsory subjects I had to do was Communications & Cultural Studies. I despised it. It involved a lot of exploring philosophy and I thought it was a big waste of time. So I didn’t take it too seriously.
10 years after graduating, I find myself incredibly fascinated by these concepts. One in particular popped into my mind this morning and prompted me to dig out my old notes. It’s the concept of hyperrealism which was introduced by Jean Baudrillard in his book Simulacra & Simulation.
On a super basic level, the concept indicates that we are living in a world of simulation. And because we’re all being programmed with the same simulation, we deem it as real.
I was actually quite impressed by 20 year old me so I thought I’d share my research from back then.
This is an excerpt from my uni presentation on theoretical issues arising in postmodern film…
Baudrillard states “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true” (Poster, 1988, p. 166). And what the hell does that mean? As Baudrillard can be hard to interpret at times it is great that a number of academics have dedicated chapters or books to understanding what he’s talking about. Constable (2004) discusses how one of the chapters in his Simulations, “The precession of simulacra”, suggests the key thesis in his early works is that the simulacrum (or image) has an existing priority and actually comes before the real.
As Baudrillard theorises in “The precession of simulacra” there are four successive stages of the image. As Baudrillard’s words are a little difficult to interpret I’ve turned to Constable (2004, p. 44) again for a more simple analysis of the stages of the image.
So, when Baudrillard says “It is the reflection of a basic reality” he means the image is performing its traditional mimetic function and merely showing us a reflection of our everyday lives. When he says “It masks and perverts a basic reality” we can make reference to a Marxist conception of mass culture as that which covers over the material conditions of production. There is an ideological function present in the image. The next stage in Baudrillard’s words is that “It masks the absence of a basic reality”, which is where the decisive break occurs; the absence of a true reality has become hidden in the image. And finally “It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum”. The annihilation of the real has been laid bare; the image has become the real.
Paul Hegarty (2004, p. 51) interprets Baudrillard’s four phases of the image in even more depth. He says “…all of the above phases are ‘strategies of the real’, our attempts to constrain ambiguity. Although not explicitly stated our culture has not known (could it have?) a real free of any system of simulacra…we are not dealing with a knowable reality lost in the schemings of bad representation as all that we have ever looked at was already an image, and that at a certain point (the first phase), the simulacra were seen to coincide with their reality, the essence of something and its appearance being inseparable.”
This idea that at a certain point the simulacra were seen to coincide with their reality is a highly evident theme in the film The Truman Show in which Jim Carrey plays a man who has lived in a reality tv show all his life, all the people he thinks are his real friends and relatives are merely actors hired to make the show like reality. Truman has reached a point in his life however where he has realised something is not quite right and he begins to question his reality. This is where the simulacrum that has always been his reality starts to falter and what is actually his reality starts to become more and more apparent and he is left more and more confused.
Remember, The Matrix? Could that be real?
When The Matrix first came out I didn’t quite get it. I was still in primary school and the concept was way above my head. But as the years got on, I became quite taken by the film. I would watch it over and over, and the more I watched it, the more I started to question reality.
Although the concept was still a little over my head when I was at uni, I decided to use The Matrix as another reference of a postmodern film. As it clearly presented a lot of theoretical issues to be considered.
This video is an interesting watch in explaining the links between The Matrix and hyperrealism — https://youtu.be/CbFceASpvbY
Towards the end it talks about simulation and relates to Baudrillard’s reference to Borges’ ‘Of Exactitude in Science’ which is about the imperial map. The map comes to stand for the model that tries to generate the real. The documentary also relates this to The Matrix and its intertextual references to Baudrillard’s desert of the real.
So where does this leave us? As Sheehan (1994, p. 31) suggests “In the absence of the real there is only the hyperreal…the hyperreal is not a heightening or distortion of the real, but a meticulous reduplication…The hyper-real has displaced the real because one thing has made it possible: technology.”
If we go back to Poe’s theory, people are tired of the same old boring conventions, they like to mess with them and make them new and exciting. Film has evolved hugely since it first came about in the early 1900’s and technology has played a huge part in this evolution. So much of our time is taken up by watching movies and talking about movies that Baudrillard could be right in saying “it is dangerous to unmask images, since they dissimulate the fact that there is nothing behind them” (Foster, 2005).
If we were to unmask the images we see every day and try to delve to the very heart of them would we find that there is simply nothing behind them but a bleak and desolate world like the one depicted in The Matrix?
So where does that leave us?
Whilst 20 year old me might not have fully understood the magnitude of what she was learning. Present me does, and as I question our existence more and more, it’s no wonder I found myself pulled to this concept.
It was stored in the recesses of my mind as I continued on with my ‘normal’ life. But there was always a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that something wasn’t quite right. And a lot has changed since my uni days. My partying days are long behind me, I left the corporate world behind, and I delved into the world of entrepreneurship. With that comes a considerable amount of personal development work and self assessment.
And the deeper my work goes, the more I question our reality.
If we know that our existence is a simulation, and our entire reality has been shaped by what we’ve been programmed to believe, then isn’t it time we start to question all of it?
If you’d like to read a more in depth analysis of Baudrillard’s work this is a great essay I found — https://valkyrist.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/jean-baudrillards-simulacra-and-simulation-notes-reflections/
Constable, C. (2004) Postmodernism and film. In Connor, S. (Ed). The cambridge companion to postmodernism. (ch. 2.) New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hegarty, P. (2004). Jean baudrillard: live theory
Jean Baudrillard: simulacra and simulations. (1988). In Poster, M. (Ed). Jean baudrillard, selected writings. Stanford: Stanford University Press
Sheehan, P. (2004) Postmodernism and philosophy. In Connor, S. The cambridge companion to postmodernism. (ch. 1.) New York: Cambridge University Press.